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The Gristle

Call of the Mild

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

CALL OF THE MILD: Partisanship and gridlock, they’re not at all the same thing.

Partisanship, which frequently springs from strongly held views, can set the size and shape of a policy debate. Backstopped at the extreme ends of divided opinion are partisan goals. Midfield are all manner of things that might be bargained and conceded in order to nudge the debate toward those goals. Gridlock is paralysis, an inability to move toward goals. Ironically, gridlock can arise because there are no strongly held views, no clear path that frames and gives meaning and value to policy debate.

Case in point, you could not slip a piece of paper between the social and policy views of Bellingham City Council, but they’ve become paralyzed as a legislative body. Council continues to move glacially on policy matters that have been on their plate for years.

Council support fades for a development authority at the very moment when a locally controlled and managed public-private partnership may be required for the central waterfront. The council learned on Monday that a property owner had withdrawn from a partnership agreement to assemble public and private property near the waterfront at Army Street, a key player that would control the corners at Bay Street and with them a potential gateway into the Waterfront District.

Port of Bellingham Commissioners may learn later this month about the status of an agreement with a master developer for their portion of the district. In February, commissioners approved a 120-day window for staff to negotiate with Dublin-based Harcourt Developments Limited to develop an initial 10.8-acre offer of Bellingham’s waterfront, a negotiation that may need to continue into the fall. Potential sticking points for Harcourt may be the size of the initial property offered (they had been interested in a site much larger than the pilot parcel offered by the port) and the purchase and sale agreement (Harcourt had initially offered a partnership with city and port interests). Also on the agenda may be an effort to restart development activities around the historic Granary Building, led by Commissioner Michael McAuley. In August of last year, commissioners agreed to accept bids for the former farmers’ cooperative building, an effort that has languished as port staff—always indifferent to the structure (at best!)—have focused on other matters. McAuley has expressed an interest in igniting what he considers an early action redevelopment opportunity on Whatcom Waterway.

Directly across the street from Army Street, the Granary could indeed jumpstart development interest, with a bid already in play. City Council learned on Monday that a geotechnical survey of the Army Street site appears favorable for construction. Yet the news comes as Council enters its budget discussions for 2015, a negotiation that may not include a budget for the city’s Public Development Authority or a salary for its director, Jim Long.

Long told Council members on Monday that an investment at Army Street could return revenues to the city that could be used to spur other developments in the Waterfront District. The mayor said such a development could occur without a PDA.

Council created the Bellingham Public Development Authority based on a model the City of Tacoma used to redevelop that city’s Foss Waterway Seaport, a business entity led by civic and business leaders from the community who are able to partner with private interests in more nimble ways than a municipal legislative body might. The Port of Bellingham declined to join the BPDA, dooming its mission, but the authority may be the best entity to guide a protracted redevelopment schedule absent the deep pockets of a developer like Harcourt. Call it “Plan B.”

Council also appears to have lost their way on a registration program for rental units in the city, appearing to jettison every beneficial part of the original proposal in favor of—basically—a telephone directory of landlords tacked on to the bare bones of a complaint-driven system. As several commenters at their meeting noted, there is already a directory of landlords, and there is already a procedure that allows tenants to complain of their shabby tenements. Thus, after more than two decades of work on this issue, Council appears on the threshold of glossing gossamer, cementing in place a “feel good” system already deemed inadequate.

Property managers and brokers, of course, joyously love it, as it compels them to do nothing. It does nothing to alter the power imbalance between the owners and sellers of private property and the 54 percent of city residents who rent from them. As commenters noted, tenants who complain get evicted and they get their references shredded.

The centerpiece of a responsible rental licensing program are audits and inspections that yield data that informs policy about the city’s rental housing stock. Even modest inspections put landlords on notice that they can no longer rely solely on the silence of their tenants on issues of public health and safety.

Over the past three years six fires have displaced nearly 20 renters in Bellingham. None of these properties had been reported to the city under the current complaint-based system since most of the tenants were unaware there was a problem and untrained to recognize one.

Council’s malaise on these issues, we’ll argue, is that—with notable exceptions—no member is pushing particularly hard in one direction, and there is no member at all pushing back hard the other way to yield dimension and stakes, even urgency, to their discussions. The public does arrive to scold and beat them, but generally only when they’re already on the precipice, having committed third and final to a mediocre plan. 

Ticket Cascadia
Past Columns
A Stitch In Time

September 28, 2016

Closer to home

September 21, 2016

Zombie Stumbles On

September 14, 2016

Drip-drip-drip:

September 7, 2016

Much ADU about nothing

August 31, 2016

A Matter of Equity

August 24, 2016

A Lock on the Crypt

August 17, 2016

Zombie Terror

August 10, 2016

A Raucous Caucus

August 3, 2016

Lockup Lockstep

July 27, 2016

Polar Wastes

July 20, 2016

Chapter Two

July 13, 2016

Close the Schools!

June 22, 2016

Closing a Circle

June 8, 2016

Roads to Nowhere

May 25, 2016

Trails versus Jail

May 18, 2016

Events
Today
Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival

10:00am|La Conner

Parkinson's Dance Class

10:00am|Ballet Bellingham

Spanish Storytime

10:30am|Lynden Library

Ferndale Farmers Market

1:00pm|Cherry Street

Get an edible education

4:00pm

Autumn Celebration Dinner

5:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Love, Loss and What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Hellingham

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Handling the truth

9:35pm

Mount Baker Theatre Andrew Subin
Tomorrow
Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival

10:00am|La Conner

Get an edible education

4:00pm

Love, Loss and What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Hellingham

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Handling the truth

9:35pm

Run Like a Girl

8:00am|Fairhaven Park

Model Train Show

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Benefit Garage Sale

9:00am|T.G. Richards Building

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner

Cabbage Class

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Healthcare Film

9:30am|Bellingham Public Library

Whatcom Artist Studio Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Fermentation Fun

10:00am|Blaine Library

Skagit Valley Festival of Family Farms

10:00am|Skagit County

Fall Fruit Festival

10:00am|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Film is Truth Anniversary Party

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Fall Family Fun

10:00am|Glen Echo Garden

Birding Walk

10:00am|South Whatcom Library

Porpathon

10:00am|Salish Sea

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|Peace Portal Drive

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Buddy Walk

11:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

National Geographic's 50 Greatest Photos Opening

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Banned Books Week Read-In

12:30pm|Village Books

Intro to NaNoWriMo

1:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Artist Lecture

1:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Matched Makers Opening

2:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Timber Rose

2:00pm|North Fork Library

Traditional Jazz

2:00pm|VFW Hall

Blessing of the Animals

3:30pm|Cornwall Park

Poetry Palavers

4:00pm|Village Books

Edison Opening

5:00pm|Smith & Vallee Gallery

Matzke Art Auction

5:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Celebrating Jack Prelutsky

5:30pm|Western Library

Fred Morrison

7:00pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

The Aimees

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

USA Dance

7:00pm|Presence Studio

George Winston

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Folk Dance Party

7:30pm|Fairhaven Library

Tannahill Weavers

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Bellingham Chamber Music Society

7:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Village Books Everybody’s Store
Sunday
The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival

10:00am|La Conner

Love, Loss and What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Handling the truth

9:35pm

Model Train Show

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Benefit Garage Sale

9:00am|T.G. Richards Building

Skagit Valley Festival of Family Farms

10:00am|Skagit County

Fall Fruit Festival

10:00am|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Whatcom Artist Studio Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Community Breakfast

8:00am|Rome Grange

Fueling Education Fun Run

9:30am|Washington Park

Sunday Market

1:00pm|Alger Community Hall

Walk the Wall

1:30pm|Lake Padden

Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day

2:00pm|Lake Padden Park

White Christmas Auditions

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Bruce Molsky

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

Sunday Night Fusion

7:00pm|Presence Studio

see our complete calendar »

{/exp:stash:get_list} Zoots Side Bar CW BOB 2016 Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Northwood Steak and Crab Swinomish 2016 Artifacts Wine Bar Andrew Subin Bellingham Farmer’s Market Mount Baker Theatre Village Books Everybody’s Store